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Bishop Kenneth Carter Bishop Kenneth Carter

The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Carter is Bishop of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, headquartered in Lakeland, FL.

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healing the health care debate

July 31, 2009

I am receiving the occasional e-mail suggesting that government should get out of health care.  Of course this is a part of the push and pull of politics, which is not to say that there is not a great deal at stake.  My initial response is to fire an e-mail back:  health care is, I believe, a basic human right, and the commodification of health care has not and is not working. 

When I reflect for a moment, however, I want to say that the church should be getting into health care.  This flows from our recovery of the healing ministry of Christ, and the root meaning of our word salvation; as Joel Green of Fuller Seminary notes, "scripture as a whole presupposes the intertwining of salvation and healing".  Government got into health care because the church got out of it; the church got out of health care because we "spiritualized" salvation, disconnecting the mind, body and spirit, and this has had disastrous consequences for the poor, the hungry and the creation itself (see Wendell Berry's essay "The Body and The Earth").  One of the implications of the incarnation (John 1. 14) is that God takes own our mortal flesh, and the gift of salvation is, in the language of the Apostle Paul, a "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5. 17). 

When the church got out of health care (leaving behind a rich tradition of hospitals and hospices formed by the Christian movement), the government took on our work.  In the name of efficiency and productivity, this work was later privatized.  The motivation shifted from service to profit, from the common good to the creation of wealth. 

The way back into the matter, for a Christian, is at the level of our belief in what God actually wants us to do in the world.  God is in the business of salvation, and this salvation includes preaching, teaching and healing.  These were the three core activities of Jesus, and the three tasks he gave to his disciples, later apostles. 

I humbly appeal to Christians to see the question not from the point of view of cost---this will lead to conclusions shaped by the creation and distribution of wealth.   The heart of the matter in the health care debate, for a Christian, is what we are called to do and how we go about answering the question asked of Jesus, "who is my neighbor?"(Luke 10).  Interestingly, this encounter provoked the story about a Good Samaritan who led an injured person to health and wholeness. 

Such a different perspective may or may not have policy implications; instead, it might add a deeper dimension to a debate that is unnecessarily polarized.   If Christians are to participate meaningfully in the conversation, we will rediscover what is uniquely at stake for us in all of this:  the fullness of God's gift of salvation, which is extended to all people.    


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